The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate
ages: 9+
First sentence: “I am Ivan.”
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Months ago, I saw a review for this one over at Abby the Librarian, and I thought to myself: y’know, I ought to read that one.

But I’m not really into animal stories, and it kind of fell by the wayside. There is so much else to read, after all.

Then, we got the amazing luck to have it land on the Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy list, for even though it’s not a fantasy in the traditional sense, it is a fantastical novel, something which probably could never happen, even though there’s a slight outside chance that it could.

I’m so happy we ended up with it.

Because, like Abby and others have said: it’s a wonderful novel.

Slim, written not in verse but rather in short sentences and chapters, it’s a story told by a gorilla in captivity. He’s not an especially happy gorilla, but he’s not an especially sad one either. Because his family was killed and he was sold when he was a baby, he doesn’t know anything other than captivity. He is friends with an old circus elephant and a mutt of a dog, and he has a sort-of relationship with Julia, the daughter of the nighttime janitor in the mall where Ivan lives.

He probably would have spent the rest of his life in his “domain”, until his owner buys a baby elephant, Ruby. Suddenly, Ivan has someone to protect. And he realizes that there could be more to his life, and Ruby, at least, deserves more.

It’s a simple novel, something that a third grader could get a grasp of. But it’s a powerful one: one that drew me into Ivan’s world, filled me with sympathy and love for these animals who just want to live a decent life. And yes, I did cry at the end.

It’s about time I read it. Beautiful.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)ย 

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